Nurses work directly with patients as licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and advanced practice nurses. Some nurses choose to specialize in a particular field.
Registered nurses comprise the largest single occupation in the healthcare field, totaling 2.7 million workers in the U.S. as of 2014. By 2020, Illinois projects a nursing shortage of more than 21,000 employees. Due to this shortage, the state is working to recruit graduates from nursing schools. This shortage also means there are many positions available in rural and urban areas. Nurses work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, and private homes. Graduates from Illinois nursing schools can also work out of state.
How to Become a Nurse in Illinois
The Illinois Center of Nursing provides a list of state-approved degrees, including online RN programs in Illinois and online BSN programs in Illinois. Licensure costs and program requirements differ based on which program you're interested in. A master's degree in nursing demands more schooling and time than an associate degree, for instance. Once a degree candidate completes an on-campus or online nursing degree or diploma, they must take the nursing licensure examination. The state of Illinois requires nurses to have a license before they can work in the field.
1. Choose the Path That's Right for You
When evaluating prospective nursing programs, consider their length and prerequisites. Nursing schools in Illinois set certain enrollment requirements. At minimum, nursing students must earn a high school diploma or GED to enter RN programs in Illinois. LPN programs do not require a college degree, but graduates must pass entrance and licensure exams. Nursing schools in Illinois may require SAT test scores. Prerequisites vary between programs. Degree candidates interested in teaching can pursue a master's degree in nursing, while learners seeking a leadership position must earn a doctor of nursing practice.
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
Nursing students can earn their degree on campus or online. Nursing schools in Illinois may require applicants to complete prerequisites before entering the major program. Core undergraduate studies include science-based courses, such as chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Nursing schools in Illinois may also require clinicians, fellowships, or internships before graduation. These requirements may impact the time it takes to graduate. Different nursing degrees take longer to complete. BSN programs in Illinois usually last four years. A master's degree in nursing typically requires two to three years to complete, while a doctor of nursing practice could take up to six years to earn.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
To become an LPN or RN in Illinois, applicants must pass a licensure exam, which costs $200. This exam does not include additional exams or fingerprint fees. Learners must complete an application with an educational program endorsement from one of the nursing schools in Illinois before taking the online exam. Some nursing schools in Illinois prepare learners for the licensing exam. State law prohibits nurses at any level from practicing without a license. A license-pending registered nurse may practice under supervision for three months.
Nursing Licensure in Illinois
LPNs and RNs take different versions of the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN exam. The test may include up to 265 questions. To prepare for the exam, the National Council for State Boards of Nursing recommends applicants review test plans.
Before taking the exam, applicants must also complete an Authorization to Test and register with Pearson VUE. Instructions for the exam's dual application process are available on the nurse page of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's website. The IDFPR, a state agency, issues nursing licenses and renewals. In Illinois, applicants must also register with Continental Testing Services. State boards for nursing determine exam eligibility. Applicants must receive testing approval before scheduling an exam. While the exam does not require a bachelor's degree in nursing or an advanced degree, all applicants must show verification of education from any of the state-approved nursing schools in Illinois. Applicants must also submit fingerprints to the IDFPR. If a nurse holds licensure in another state, the applicant must apply to practice in Illinois through the IDFPR website.
State Requirements by Nursing Type
Illinois does not have specific education requirements to become an RN, but earning an associate or bachelor's degree benefits your application. Applying is a dual process. You must submit the Illinois application through Continental Testing Services (CTS) and register for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX) through Pearson VUE. The application includes sections for your licensure and examination history, your student loan or child support information, and educational background. Your school completes the ED-NUR form to verify your education. You must know the professional coding information for nursing and the examination. Once your application is received, CTS will contact you by mail if any information is missing and may request supporting documentation.
The exam is delivered electronically, in an adaptive computerized format. The application fee is $50, the exam fee through CTS is $98, and the Pearson VUE fee is $200. Applicants who do not pass can retake the exam upon receipt of their official letter. Out-of-state applicants do not apply through the same agency -- they must apply through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Applicants are not permitted to practice without supervision until receiving their license.
The license is renewed every three years. Once your license expires, you must submit another complete application to CTS. RNs must complete a minimum of 20 continuing education units per year to maintain their licenses.
Illinois maintains a registry of Certified Nursing Assistants called the Health Care Worker Registry. While a certified nursing assistant is not licensed in the traditional sense, they must be listed in the registry to obtain employment. There are five sets of training requirements to qualify for the registry; you must meet at least one of them. The requirements are: 1) an approved training program, 2) a basics of nursing arts course, 3) a military training program, 4) a foreign nursing program, 5) registration in another state. There are separate applications for each of the requirements. A criminal background check and a written exam are required in all cases except for out-of-state applicants.
The exam is administered through Southern Illinois University (SIU) at various testing sites throughout the state. The testing schedule and registration deadlines are listed on SIU's website. SIU also provides an online sample test to give you an idea of questions asked. The first-time exam fee is $67. The test is primarily delivered through paper-based exams, but some integrated computer-based exams are available. Results are posted on the registry website two weeks after the exam.
There are no renewal requirements. You must complete recertification if you do not work in a nursing capacity for two years. The process includes a manual skills test and a written exam. CNA's from out of state must submit an application with documentation of current registration and evidence of no administrative findings of disqualifying criminal convictions.
LPN's are graduates of state-approved practical nursing programs. Practical nursing programs typically take a year of full time study to complete. Some RN programs offer an LPN opt-out; students complete only the practical nursing requirements. An LPN can be a stepping stone to an RN. Similar to the RN license, applying for the LPN is a dual process. Candidates apply for licensure to CTS and register with Pearson VUE to take the NCLEX practical nursing examination. Applicants must submit a completed application, verification of education, and a fingerprint background check. Illinois requests information on your previous licenses and examinations, criminal convictions, and child support or student loan obligations. The fee is $50 to apply, $98 for the exam, and $200 for the fee to Pearson VUE.
Tests are scheduled through the Pearson VUE website and applicants complete the electronic test at a Pearson VUE testing center. Candidates check in to the testing center with a palm vein recognition scanner and are given six hours to complete the exam. An online examination tutorial is available on the website, but applicants should prepare their own study materials. Candidates who do not pass may retake the exam after 45 days.
Nurses who hold licensure in another state can apply through the endorsement method. The application is completed on an online portal and no examination is required. Applicants must submit licensure history, education, and personal history. A background check is required. The application fee is $50.
Career Outlook for Nurses in Illinois
Illinois offers three primary careers for nursing: LPN, RN, and APN. Under the direction of an RN, an LPN assists medical professionals in the nursing practice. An RN, who typically holds a bachelor's degree in nursing, provides direct patient care and promotes health. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in Illinois to increase 2.1% for RNs. An APN holds licensure as an RN and APN. Using advanced diagnostic skills, an APN assists medical professionals in the practice of medicine. Unlike RNs and LPNs, APNs can prescribe and administer medication and order diagnostic tests. As they advance their careers, nurses may choose to specialize in a specific area, such as pediatrics, emergency nursing, or coronary care. Teaching and leadership positions are also available.
Employment Data For RNs in Illinois
Registered nurses serve a vital role in healthcare, directly contributing to saving lives every day. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 15% job growth nationwide for RN's through 2026. The mean annual salary for nurses in Illinois of $72,090 is close to the national average of $73,550. Mean salaries range from $49,050 to $100,130. You can expect to earn higher wages as you gain experience and take on additional responsibilities. The majority of registered nurses work in hospital settings. General hospitals employ 30.64% of nurses while speciality hospitals employ 23.98%; however, the highest paying industries are not hospitals or even direct patient care. Pharmaceutical manufacturing employs 0.07% of nurses with a mean salary of $90,510. The federal executive branch employs 3.91% of the nursing workforce, offering the third highest mean salary of $87,030. The Chicago metropolitan area employs the third highest number of RN's in the nation: 75,320 nurses account for 20.57 per 1,000 total jobs in the area. The mean salary of RN's in the area is higher than the state average at $76,640.
Employment Data For CNAs in Illinois
As an entry-level position, CNA's provide basic, non-technical care to patients. CNA's provide personal services such as bathing and dressing and spend a lot of time with their patients in intimate settings. The need for CNA's is growing: BLS projects 11% growth in employment through 2026. The national mean salary for CNA's is $28,540. The majority of CNA's work in nursing care facilities; 36.66% of the workforce is CNA's, followed by retirement and assisted living facilities with 18.03%. Hospitals may provide higher salaries. Specialty hospitals employ 10.21% of the workforce and offer a mean salary of $31,120, while general hospitals offer $30,640. The highest paying industries employ few CNA's: The federal executive branch offers a mean salary of $38,340 but employs only 0.70% of the workforce.
CNA salaries in Illinois range from $20,970 to $37,380, with a mean of $27,770. Illinois consistently ranks as one of the largest employers of CNA's. The Chicago metropolitan area ranks third largest in the country and offers a mean salary of $29,130. Kankakee employs CNA's at a rate of 26.51 per 1,000 jobs, while west central Illinois employs 21.22 per 1,000 jobs.
Employment Data For NPs in Illinois
As graduate-level educated professionals, nurse practitioners work independently and in similar ways to physicians. Thus, NP's are better compensated. The national mean salary for NP's is $107,480. Specialized nurse practitioners may earn higher wages; for example, nurse anesthetists earn an average of $165,120. Most NP's work in physicians' offices providing diagnostic and treatment services; 3.06% of the industry is employed in physician offices. Outpatient care services provide the next highest industry employment at 1.76%. The highest paying industry is personal care services with a mean salary of $139,460. However, the industry employs only 0.04% of the workforce.
The demand for NPs is growing: the BLS projects a 31% increase through 2026. Illinois employed 0.78 NPs per 1,000 jobs overall in 2017. The mean wage in the state is $101,960, with a range of $72,960 to $129,080. Again, the Chicago metropolitan area employs the highest number of NPs: 0.61 per 1,000 jobs, ranking 10th in the nation. East central non-metropolitan areas of Illinois offer some of the highest salaries, with a mean of $118,680.
Biggest Hospitals in Illinois
Hospitals provide many employment opportunities for recent graduates of nursing schools in Illinois. Several hospitals in Illinois serve as teaching hospitals, offering internships, fellowships, and work-study programs. Teaching hospitals provide degree candidates with the opportunity to network and learn from professionals who have years of experience.
- Northwestern Memorial Hospital: Ranked as the top hospital in Illinois by U.S. News & World Report, Northwestern Memorial Hospital employs more than 30,000 medical practitioners, including 4,000 doctors. In the past year, the hospital saw a total of 45,998 admitted patients. Northwestern Memorial Hospital also serves as a teaching hospital for medical students.
- Rush University Medical Center: A teaching hospital accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, Rush University Medical Center treated 31,810 patients in the past year. U.S. News & World Report ranks the medical center as the second best hospital in Illinois. With more than 2,500 students, the medical center offers an ideal educational setting.
Additional Nursing Resources in Alabama
- Illinois Center for Nursing: Created due to an anticipated nurse shortage in the state, the Illinois Center for Nursing serves as a resource for current students and graduates of nursing schools in Illinois. The state-sponsored website includes useful resources for nurses, including information about scholarships and grants, volunteering opportunities, and advertisements for faculty positions. The center's website also provides links to professional nurse organizations.
- Illinois Association of School Nurses: The Illinois Association of School Nurses remains the only organization in Illinois designed for school nurses. The association advocates for nurses in the state and provides industry-specific information, including employment opportunities, news and events, conference registration, membership forms, and awards and scholarships available for nurses employed by Illinois school districts.
- Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation: This state department serves a number of key functions, including providing license applications and renewals for new and current nurses. The website also offers important dates for license renewals, updates on state nursing laws and regulations, board contact information, and a database that allows employers and nurses to look up a specific license.
- American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Illinois Chapter: This state chapter of the APNA provides guidance and a professional network for psychiatric nurses residing in the state. The chapter's website features information about upcoming events, association membership, and job listings in the state.
- Illinois Nurses Association: Serving as the nurses' union in the state, this labor organization works to improve wage and working conditions and provides representation for members. The union's website provides links to available nursing jobs in the state, education about union membership and collective bargaining, information about upcoming events, and the union's social media channels.
Accredited Online Nursing Programs in Illinois
Accreditation is important. It ensures students that the school or program has met certain educational standards. The table below shows all of the available online programs from nursing schools in the state, including accelerated nursing programs in Illinois. The list also displays accreditation, which applies to any type of online nursing degree, including RN to BSN and MSN .